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February 6, 2009

Bank of America: utter slime
Posted by Patrick at 03:02 PM *

The moral corruption of our financial industry is all-encompassing. Roll the tumbrels.

Comments on Bank of America: utter slime:
#1 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 03:40 PM:

Somehow that still feels like minor sin compared to the people who created and inflated the mortgage trading marketplace in the first place. Even if you took all of the bad mortgages and added them up together, you wouldn't have a sum that equal the amount of damage done by the market trading in them.

Sure, some oversight of collections agents being dicks is a good idea, but the real protection is going to be in telling the credit and trading industry that they just can't do that sort of thing ever again, or they'll get slapped into next Tuesday.

#2 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 03:59 PM:

Just unreal. To Josh's point -- the people who created and inflated the mortgage market -- that's a large crowd. It's sort of the "banality of evil" (or perhaps just the "banality of stupidity").

The BOA interaction is much more *actively* evil: I know exactly what I'm doing, I'm going to try to rip off a particular individual for a lot of money.

Trillions of dollars of damage spread out over many instigators and many victims, versus direct, malicious attacks on individuals. My gut says the latter is actually worse... but maybe that's just my monkey brain weighting the personal more heavily than the aggregate.

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 04:10 PM:

They're also betting that someone who's dealing with a death in the family will be too distracted to think straight, and will just automatically pay debts they don't owe. (Banks aren't the only ones.)

#4 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 04:19 PM:

I'm so glad my mom is good about paying her credit card bills! So was my husband's mom.

I had a nasty run-in with a BofA collector who insisted I was someone with a similar name who was three months behind on their credit card payments. He got hold of the wrong person - in more ways than one. I kept him busy for a good 20 minutes, though! ;-)

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Some 15 years ago, I had to sic a NastyLawyerLetter on some financial institution whose name I no longer recall to get my home and work phone numbers, my parents' number, and my grandmother's number removed from the file of one of their deadbeats... who just happened to be a guy named Lee (but whose last name was different from mine). To make a long story as short as possible:

1) My parents moved, and had to get a new phone number. It turned out to be the same number that this guy had listed as a contact.

2) They called my parents and asked to speak to "your son Lee" -- and my mother, in a fit of unbelievable credulity, gave them my home number instead of telling them that she didn't have a son named Lee. And she used to accuse ME of being a gullible idiot who would fall for anything!

3) They called my home number and got my housemate... and the scumbag on the line said that she was an old high-school friend of mine, just in town for a day or two, and could she get my work number?

4) They called my office and asked, not for "Lee $HISNAME", which would have gotten a response of, "We don't have any employee by that name," but for me by first name only. And then tried to say that they'd asked for me by full name.

I got hold of a supervisor and ripped him a new one, and then called a lawyer friend and had her write the Official Notice. I forget exactly how my grandmother's number got in there, but they were calling her too, at unghodly hours of the morning.

Absolutely nothing these people do surprises me. They have the morals of a mob boss.

#6 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Ripping off people with deceased relatives may be more easily curable by law. Suppose the bank had to get you to sign a form saying that you were paying the debt even though you had no legal obligation to do so.

Disclosure laws can be quite useful.

#7 ::: Mashell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Ok, maybe I am gullible, but if my Mom had a debt and hadn't paid it off then I would pay it. She raised me to believe that we repay our obligations - so yes, I may not be legally responsible, but my character would not allow me to let my Mom be remembered as a deadbeat.

#8 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 05:02 PM:

Lee @5, I still get collectors calling for someone who lived in this house before we bought it. We've been here 25 years. The callers are always friendly (they obviously know they're grasping at straws), but they try to find out if we know where to find the guy. I don't know, and I don't care.

I can only guess that he must owe enough money to make it worth their while.

#9 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 05:03 PM:

"Death is an ordinary business risk-- in some businesses more than others, of course...." He smiled briefly. "Ser Anafi was getting ready to have you sign on the spot. This suggests to me that he was perfectly aware of his risk, and thought he might hustle you into taking over a debt not rightfully yours while you were still in shock. Not fair. In fact, not ethical at all. Yes, I think we can leave him to ImpSec."

-- from Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold (thx to Google Books Preview)

#10 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 05:14 PM:

Seems like bill collectors are exploiting ordinary social courtesy and human habits. This is obnoxious behavior, which should not be rewarded!

Seems like fictional private detectives (perhaps real ones as well; I wouldn't know) do a lot of the same things, but also have a somewhat broader range of techniques (they are, after all, less regulated).

#11 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 05:37 PM:

Lee@5: My mother has been getting phone calls from someone trying to collect a debt from an ex-boyfriend of mine from about five years ago. She, being no fool, has been telling them that she has no idea where he is or how to contact him (which has the benefit of being more or less the truth; I know how to get in touch with him, but she doesn't have his number or address), but it blows my mind that they'd call her nonetheless. He's never lived at that house, I haven't lived at that house in over ten years, and as I said above, we broke up five years ago. How any of that translates into a right for them to call my mother over and over and harass her for his current phone number or address is a complete mystery to me.

#12 ::: Kate in OH ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 06:02 PM:

As a customer service rep for BofA's credit card division who takes pride in providing customers with the best possible service, I apologize for the behavior of my colleagues in other departments. Here, at least, we are specifically trained to "do the right thing" for our customers, and it's my ability to do that more than my ability to upsell that has won me praise, high listening scores, and advancement. I also appreciate this link being posted; I've passed it on to my manager so that my teammates can also be prepared to get calls on this.

#13 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 06:42 PM:

I live down in Boston now, but I'm originally from a little town not far from Belfast. Everything in that article and everything said by their source is consistent with what I've heard from former employees about BoA's practices at the Belfast call center.

@#8: 25 years? Yowch. That's way beyond the statute of limitations for most debts.

#14 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 07:15 PM:

And, as a reward, BoA (along with all the others) is going to get a *huge* tax break in the upcoming "stimulus" bill, in the form of increased loss carry forwards.

Because the umpteen billion dollars we've given them already has made such a dramatic change in the economy, of course.

#15 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 07:26 PM:

Lisa @ 11: I bet he used your mother as a reference somewhere - not a cosigner or anything, but maybe a character reference on a job application. These bottom feeders are worse than the NSA about how and where they suck up people's personal information.

#16 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 07:47 PM:

It's also worth noting that BoA is one of the biggest marketers of "affinity cards", those credit cards that are associated with particular groups, schools, or charitable associations. (The bank gets to use their name and contact lists for marketing purposes, in return for some money going to the organization.)

We had one of these cards to support a charity we liked, through MBNA (which Bank of America acquired a few years back). When MBNA got even more noticeably rapacious than usual (the last straw was trying to assert a right to impose usurious interest charges *retroactively* if a payment ever arrived late) we wrote both to MBNA *and* the charity telling them we were canceling our account (which we'd always kept in good standing), and detailed exactly why we were doing so. We told the charity we'd be happy to re-acquire an affinity card to help support them if they decided to associate with a more ethical bank.

I haven't seen any evidence that BoA has behaved any better than the company they bought. If you feel the same, and have (or are offered) one of their cards that's affiliated with an organization you support, you might want to let the organization know, in addition to any action you take yourself.

#17 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 08:19 PM:

G. Jules @13: I'll bet the debt isn't 25 years old. I've filled out plenty of applications that ask for the previous residence or two, and my credit report shows where I lived before now. That information wouldn't be difficult for a creditor to dig up. It's a lead. But someone must be really desperate (or hoping for a huge commission) to go digging that far back.

#18 ::: SFO ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Moral corruption is not the right term. The term that you are looking for is Morally Bankrupt.

I used to work for BAC, and am glad I don't anymore, for that very reason.

#19 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Mashell @7 - Someone I know had their ex-husband die and they were the executor of the will and the only heir (parents dead, no children, no siblings). Now among the reasons why he was an ex-husband is that he was a compulsive gambler and had debts all over the place, although before his unexpected death, he had turned that around and had started paying off some of them and was negotiating others. As it happens he did have some assets, which had been hidden to make it more difficult to sieze (his pay was going into a friend's account, and the small remnant of his winnings from his gambling days was held by another friend). Being honest and wanting to make a clean sweep of it, when this money came to light they put it into the estate to pay off the debts as much as possible (it came to about 6 or 7p in the pound I think - I may be wrong on some of the details, and it's really a much longer story). They didn't spend any of their own money to pay off his debts.

Now she might have felt an obligation to pay off that debt and if she did so it's her choice. And if it had been a child they might have done so. But that's their choice; we don't inherit debts because that route leads to indenture and serfdom.

(Sorry for the length and preachiness of this)

#20 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:17 PM:


Unfortunately, Bank of America is no more, or less, slimy than Citibank, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Nation's Bank, etc. etc. With respect for Patrick's level of outrage, which I entirely support, I just want to point out that "ethical bankers" is an oxymoron. Don't misunderstand me: many people who work in banks are personally and professionally ethical. But banks have no ethics, only "standards," which term is only loosely connected to ethics. Hardly at all, in fact.

No, I don't have all my money stashed in cash under my mattress, it just sounds that way. But I've considered it lately.

#21 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:24 PM:

These things are done simply to obtain more cash for the corporation, the post by the imputed BoA rep just goes to show the lengths they will go to.

And some of those lengths are detailed in a class-action suit against BoA that is about to be settled -- Boa has a policy that they will, if a debit card balance is going to go into overdraft, arrange the payment queue for that day so that the largest items in the payment queue are processed first, so as to use up the maximum amount of available funds,so the maximum number of items go into overdraft. And each overdraft carries a $35 fee

In addition,since they are limited to being able to assess only 7 overdraft charges in a day, they also delay processing other overdraft items until the next day.

Now, imagine the person who has direct deposit, and,for whatever reason, their paycheck does *not* get posted on the day expected, but bill payments have already been scheduled, it would be very easy to rack up hundreds of dollars of fees.
And because electronic debits have a real-time processing component, it is usually not doable to be able cancel/delay the automatic debit.

What we need is a law like the UK has, where bank fees have to actually reflect the actual cost,to the bank, of the incident that triggers the fees.

#22 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:58 PM:

While not BoA or any other large corp, I did spend a month doing collections for a somewhat smaller company. What I found really interesting was that in several instances I was reprimanded for being too nice to the people I was calling - even when I was getting a good return rate. I was strongly encouraged to treat every customer with a debt over ninety days old as a deliberate deadbeat who had money and just wasn't willing to cough it up.

After a month I told my boss that if he made me do collections calls again (not what I had been hired on for), I'd quit on the spot.

#23 ::: Kate in OH ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 10:07 PM:

Craig @ 21, by "imputed BoA rep" were you referring to me?

Nothing imputed about it, sir. One of the regulars here can verify that I *do* work for BoA in exactly the capacity I claim, and that I *do* care about providing fair and ethical service to my customers. I'm sitting at my desk right now, on break from a 10-hour shift of resolving problems for our most elite customers -- a position I earned not by selling consolidation loans and credit insurance plans, but by consistently ranking high in positive customer feedback and in listening scores based on whether I provided courteous, accurate assistance to callers. My teammates got here the same way, and I've seen people fired for unethical and discourteous behavior in the two and a half years I've worked here.

Yes, of course collectors have quotas to make -- we're not going to pay someone to sit around eight hours a day and not bring in any revenue. Would you? As for the rest of the claims in the original article that was linked, it's now been brought to the attention of bank management, so I'm sure that the individuals named will be asked to explain their handling of the situation.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to review adjustments that have been made to accounts by other reps, double-checking for errors. That's part of my job, too.

#24 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 11:00 PM:

I'm the regular Kate mentioned, and yes, I do vouch for her. Heck, I'm the person who pointed her to Making Light a few months back. She works at BoA, does the job she has described here, is highly ethical, and would never stoop to the behavior described in the TPM article. In fact, she phoned me on an earlier break this evening rather perturbed to hear that such a thing would occur in the first place, and it was she who alerted me to the existence of this post and thread.

Kate's on the up and up. We all clear on that?

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 11:35 PM:

Mashell, #7: Dying does not make you a deadbeat. If anyone has ever told you -- or even intimated to you -- any such thing, they were LYING. Your dead parent's creditors have a legitimate claim on any assets in your parent's estate. They do NOT have any claim, legally or morally, on your assets, and intimating that they do makes them con-men.

Lisa, #11: I recommend the NastyLawyerLetter method for your mom as well. They won't stop until they have some stronger reason for doing so than common sense or common decency.

#26 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 12:48 AM:

When I first moved back up here, I got an account with a small bank. It was eaten by another bank and that one by another and another and so on until my account was with Bank of America. When they started online banking, I joined up -- after all, it was free, didn't cost me anything, and I'm an early adopter when I can afford it.

The first month, I started getting calls from my payees on how my payment was late and it had never been before. I called the local BofA and asked what had happened. I had to get to a supervisor before I found the truth. The small print had said to leave 10 days for transfer to the payees, and I had. But what they were doing was waiting 10 days and then writing and sending the check. So they got extra time with my money.

What had been the local IBM employees credit union had become a regional CU and I moved over quickly.

#27 ::: Mark Richards ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 03:23 AM:

Don't the banks have actuaries who tell them that X number of people are expected to die within any given year, leaving Y amount of debt that can't be collected, so that this data can be incorporated into their projections?

(Thereby rendering bogus the last bit of that estates reps' rap?)

Oh wait ... maximizing profit, no matter what ...

And I think we've already got a tumbrel traffic jam.

#28 ::: Del Cotter ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 07:46 AM:

Mashell, if people are to be raised to honor their families' obligations to corporations, then corporations must be raised to honor their obligations to people's families. If that is a compact that has broken over the years, I do not believe it was people who broke it.

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 09:21 AM:

Summer Storms @24:
We all clear on that?


(*Shows the merest centimeter of blade before sliding it back into the sheath with a sharp click*)

Right, guys?

Civility. Good manners. Correct attribution of blame. Hospitality.

Welcome to Making Light. Please do stick around.

I worked for a bank for ten years. Many of my friends are still there. I remember well the cringing feeling when we'd hit the news for all the wrong reasons.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Kate in OH... Welcome. Do you like puns? (Abi... Ask her about the other thing.)

#31 ::: Mashell ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:21 AM:

Del@28 -- in the situation we were discussing, the bank allowed the mom to use their money - with the understanding the money plus interest would be paid back. They fulfilled their part of that contract. Now they want the money they are owed. The estate is legally obligated to pay.

I KNOW that I am not responsible for debts I did not make. But my Mom, who always pays her debts on time, would be moritified in whatever hereafter she resides in(if any), to know that she left anything owing to anyone. As an obligation to MY MOTHER, not the bank, I would pay her debts. Sorry if that was unclear.

Now my Father, on the other hand, who never met a credit card he could resist and believes you don't pay a bill till the third "final notice", would probably be a different story. Thankfully his much younger wife will most likely have to deal with that situation!

#32 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:31 AM:

Its worth noting that a lot of this behavior doesn't come from any laxity in the laws themselves, but in the regulatory agencies -- which ShrubCo neutered during their reign. I'm hoping that our new administration will reestablish those agencies as forces to be reckoned with....

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:35 AM:

When I posted a rant about AutoZone's deceptive marketing practices* on my LJ, somebody showed up to comment who claimed to be from AutoZone and said that my concerns would be passed up the line. The problem with that is, my partner used to work for AutoZone, and he says they were doing the same thing 15 years ago when he was with them.

Similarly, a friend of mine got seriously screwed over by ComCast (the details aren't mine to post) and ranted about it on LJ, and got a visit from a "ComCast representative" who apologized and said her concerns would be addressed. This did not stop ComCast from doing the exact same thing to her again six months later.

All of which is to say that, while I don't doubt that Kate in OH is personally distressed about all this, I don't expect to see BoA making any changes in their procedures anytime soon, and THEY are still slime.

* Specifically, that they add small items to your purchase without telling you about it. Sometimes the items are taped to the one you're buying, so that you think they're supposed to be included in the purchase price, but they're not. They nailed me for a pair of worthless "felt washers" when I bought a car battery. (It was only $2, but multiply that by the number of batteries they sell nationwide in a day...) Yeah, I'd have caught it if I'd looked more closely at the receipt -- but buying stuff isn't supposed to be opt-out!

#35 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 11:09 AM:

Mashell: As I recall, from studying probate, in general the debts die with the estate. The heirs are not obliged to make them "good".

Part of the reason probate is so involved is determining who is owed what, and who has prior claim to limited assets.

If debts were inheiritable, most of us would have been born slaves to the debts of our ancestors. To refuse to assume; for yourself, the debts of one's parents doesn't make them deadbeats.

Banks know this when they lend (and some debts have ways of recovering from the estate), and that rep was playing on the lack of people knowing that, "death discharges all", and hoping someone, at a vulnerable time, would just pay up some money.

Which is vile.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 11:53 AM:

Lee @33:

Without the least criticizing your distinction between Kate and her employer, I would point out that Kate came here as the friend of a member of the community, not as a stranger. This is a contrast between this thread and the other situations you mention.

Just, you know, being clear. Because a customer service bod sent into the fray by an employer with hollow promises to change would not be welcome here. A private citizen posting of her relevant experience and information, on the other hand, is, whether or not she disagrees with the flow of the thread about BoA.

Serge has reminded me that I am being remiss in my manners. Do you write poetry?

#37 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 02:18 PM:

The only credit card I use regularly is my LL Bean affinity Visa. It was originally an MBNA card, which then got eaten by BoA. Interestingly, LL Bean, which prides itself on being the gold standard of customer service, switched providers to a different bank last year. I was all too happy to get out from under BoA's thumb -- the above is only one illustration of just how evil they are.

#38 ::: Kate in OH ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 03:10 PM:

Thanks, to those of you who have extended a welcome. Yes, I like puns (I've also been known to haunt alt.callahans), and yes, I write poetry. I probably won't be terribly active, but that's just because I don't much like the bulletin board format. The feed goes to my LJ, though, so anytime there's a headline that really catches my eye I'll pop in once or twice for that thread.

#39 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 04:14 PM:

abi, #36: a customer service bod sent into the fray by an employer

Was that a deliberate subtle play on "bot"? If it was, I am in awe. If it was just a typo, I submit that it was spectacularly appropriate for the type of person I was describing in my two examples, and should perhaps be considered a good neologism.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Lee @39:

Neither; it's an extant Britishism. But the assonance with "bot" was intentional.

#41 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 05:10 PM:

I just dealt with a customer service issue with BoA. Everyone that I dealt with was very, very polite, although they twice tried to sell me on a credit card I already had and it took four different contacts (two phone calls, two trips into the local branch) to resolve my problem.

However, trying to convince people to pay for their dead relatives is screwed up.

#42 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 05:47 PM:

I recently made a will, with the assistance of a lawyer. One of the clauses instructs that my "just debts" be paid out of the estate. The entire paragraph having been suggested by the lawyer, I'm assuming that's a legal term of art, at least in New York.

The point being, my estate is liable for my debts and there is no attempt to evade that. My heirs, however, are not liable if I die owing more than the amount in my estate.

If heirs were so liable, I suspect a lot of people who knew they were broke would write wills stating that they left everything to an institution they disliked, or write up documents saying that they owed a random friend or relative $20,000 and a will leaving everything to Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg.

I can't write a will that puts a third party under an obligation to repay my debts, whether that third party is a rich stranger; a well-to-do personal enemy; a friend; or my spouse or child.

#43 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:46 PM:

The problem is that what they did is already clearly illegal. The FTC can prosecute under the FDCPA, §807 (2) (A), §808, (1), punishable by damages plus up to $1000 more, at the discretion of the court. (FDCPA, §813) I'm not sure if individuals can sue normally for damages.

That's what I get for spending a summer working at the FTC, even though I don't actually know law. If anyone has any questions, talk to a lawyer - ones who know this subject are in demand, but if you have a lawyer friend who can let you know if you can sue under the FDCPA, they should give you an informal opinion about what to do. Small claims court against large corporations is generally an easy way to get a quick verdict or a settlement.

The real issue is that for class action suits, punitive damages is limited to $1000 per named plaintiff, and maxes out at the lesser of $500k or 1% of the lenders net worth for all other affected individuals - corporations have a huge incentive to fight these cases, and the damages if they lose are low enough that it's not worth it for lawyers to pursue them for the years they would take in court to resolve.

That is what the FTC is supposed to be doing, if they were properly funded to pursue the cases they should bring, and actually didn't need to deal with congressional oversight that effectively neutered them in the 80s after complaints that they were too zealous about enforcing truth in advertising laws. Oh well, maybe Obama can fix consumer protection law enforcement one of these days.

#45 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 08:23 AM:

Summer --
Thank you for the clarification.

Considering the history of other who have purported to be from organizations being discussed in ML threats, coupled with the fact that a quick "view all by" for that screenname only showed the entries from this thread,I was less than trusting.

KatefromOhio --
acccept my apologies, please.

#46 ::: Ruth ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 09:57 AM:

meredith @27 : I worked for an LLBean call center for a two holidays seasons and after MBNA was bought out the company got huge numbers of calls from people complaining about the customer service. As part of the arrangement with the new CC issuer (Barclays) they've set up a separate call center in ME *just* to handle the LLBean card, with cs people trained by LLB to their standards.

#47 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 03:57 PM:

I once had my sister, living in another state, and who I had NEVER named as a copayer on a credit card, have a bill collector call her about a debt I had with them. They had apparently done some kind of internet search on my relatives, found her and one of my brothers (and my father), called each one and tried to get them to call me and pressure me into paying the debt (which we were trying to set up a payment schedule on from a credit relief agency).

Needless to say, all my relatives thought that was an unusual and, ultimately unsuccessful tactic, since they refused to do anything on the agency's behalf.

#48 ::: Deb Geisler ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 08:39 PM:

I was once contacted by a credit agency wanting to track down a fellow fan who happened to work (quite indirectly) with me on a purely volunteer project. "Who are you, and where on earth did you get my name in connection with this?" I demanded (rather forcefully).

Eventually, it turned out that this collections idiot/person had done a web search, found my name as the project lead, and decided I had some obligation in the matter.

I asked for her name, company name, address, and phone number -- so that my attorney could contact them. She hung up.

#49 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 09:05 PM:

That's a pretty standard phrase - I've seen it in wills going back to the 18th century. (Whether there's enough estate to pay those debts is another matter.)

#50 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2009, 11:13 PM:

Vicki @ 42
"The point being, my estate is liable for my debts and there is no attempt to evade that. My heirs, however, are not liable if I die owing more than the amount in my estate.

If heirs were so liable, I suspect a lot of people who knew they were broke would write wills stating that they left everything to an institution they disliked, or write up documents saying that they owed a random friend or relative $20,000 and a will leaving everything to Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg.


There's a Fred Pohl novel, ISTR Drunkard's Walk, in which there is something very much like this, heirs are liable for funeral expenses, and getting penniless people to leave everything to their enemies in return for some immediate consideration was a common way of getting at them.


#51 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 12:13 PM:

heh - BBCKids is starting up two episodes of DoctorWho a night again, and I just finished watching "The Sun Makers" again.

I have a rather uncommon name (and a .net presence with it, which explains the nym); that makes my family pretty susceptible to these games. Of course, we're also smart, and any request for information on X's existence is met with "can I have your name, company name and contact number. If I can reach them, I'll give it to them."

Which, in fact, got me my current job, because they're honourable, and did provide that information. The other "Watson" called me, explained, I called Company, and away we went. But it's amazing how many companies have no interest in providing the same contact information they're very happy to collect about me...and how that correlates rather well with "companies I wish to talk to".

Heh - but just in the past two weeks, I've talked to $BANK and $TELCO phoners who did do everything right, so I apologized to them for my reaction to their company's behaviour. It didn't stop "I'm sorry, I will never give your company another penny of my business ever again," though.

#52 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 12:18 PM:

When my uncle died, the bank holding his savings account -- all of $165.00 -- refused to release it without probate, which in Florida runs into the thousands of dollars, EVEN after receiving affidavits from the police certifying that my mother was next of kin.

It gave me a great deal of pleasure when they "got eated" by another bank, which then promptly folded.

#53 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 03:39 PM:

That reminds me - given both the last story, and the one that started all this off - I feel a need to preach a little about a good thing most people neglect:

Make a will, please!

If you don't have a will already, then this very evening, write down who you want to get your assets if you die, write down the executor who you want to be in charge of that, sign it, and tell both them and some other people where it is.

Even spending 10 minutes to do this much will be vastly better than nothing, because although it will have to go through probate at least you got to decide who gets your money, or your treasured spoon collection, or whatever. If you don't do this, the state will decide who gets it, and usually that will be whatever's left over after spending your money on the decision process.

If you can afford $50, buy a "home legal" software package that will help you write a will out. (We got one for free with some other software.) This will help you use the right wording for things; also, get your signature of it witnessed and signed by two people who aren't named in the will.

If you can afford it, and especially if you've got a child - or you have an unconventional family structure - go to an actual lawyer to help draw up the will, preferably after you've done either of the two above things so you have some idea what you want. A lawyer can set up the will to be "self-probating" meaning that it never needs to go through court approval (which can take years) and will usually think of much better ways to accomplish what you want and handle the disaster scenarios like "what if both of you die at once?" (For instance, if you have kids under 21 and you own any property or even have life insurance, there should really be a trust automatically set up for them.)

Also if there's anybody you care about and trust in your life, make a medical power of attorney or advance health-care directive naming them to make decisions for you if you're incapacitated, and set down in it how you want to be treated if unable to speak for yourself, whether it's no long-term life-support, keeping your body alive as long as you can, or whatever you believe in.

Particularly if you have a family, or you're not married to your lover, or you're in a same-sex relationship, or you are in a polyamorous relationship, and you die without a will - or end up in a coma with no medical power of attorney - your survivors are in for a world of extra hurt, just when they are least ready to cope with it. (Something like this just happened recently involving the brother-in-law of a coworker. Bad situation.)

People aren't usually planning to die when they do, and it's a little late to take care of it on your deathbed. Please do it.

#54 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 03:55 PM:

I've been told that a (living?) trust helps also - probate fees can be high.

#55 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 04:32 PM:

Yeah, but that goes into the category of things that a lawyer can and should do for you; setting up a revocable living trust is not a do-it-yourself.

My wife and I each have one which together interlock so that if just one of us dies, the other effectively gets immediate full control of everything together with the maximum of legal tax shielding, but if we both die at once or in succession, it all ends up in the trusts for the kids, and further handles the less likely cases where all of our direct descendants happen to be dead or where our preferred trustees are dead when the will becomes active. There is no way we could have done something like that ourselves; it seemed to me to cover all the bases which are remotely probable outside of a world-wide plague or a small asteroid hit on the Pacific Coast. (Bringing in a little SFnal content...)

#56 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 04:52 PM:

Clifton @ #55, or Kilauea, Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea (or all three!) blowing up.

Or, for that matter, Diamond Head or Punchbowl coming back to life.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 05:13 PM:

Clifton, #53: I have to add a caveat about the will-writing software: have it vetted by a lawyer when you're done. My 80-year-old father thought that he and a will-writing package could do a better job than paying for a lawyer, and the result was a document full of internal errors that had to be sorted out in probate (things like the same bequest being given as different figures in different parts of the document) and some issues not properly addressed which have continued to cause problems for me ever since.

It should also be noted that he was trying to do multiple trusts, trust rollovers, and extended payouts to be made at certain intervals after his death -- exactly the sort of complicated things you mention as being best done by a lawyer in the first place. But of course, I wasn't competent enough for him to pay any attention to my advice, which was "Let a professional handle this."

#58 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 07:24 PM:

Thanks, Clifton and Lee.

We do have kids, but felt comfortable doing a will with software, since we have a relatively small estate and didn't need to do anything more than designate guardians and say who gets our estate as a whole in a few standard circumstances. If we were trying to do anything complex with trusts, had a complicated or unusual family structure, or had estates big enough to worry about taxes, we'd use a lawyer. (My parents used a lawyer, for instance, which was the right call for their situation.)

If you've written or created artistic works of value, and hold copyrights in them, you may well want to also specially designate who gets control of them. I don't think our off-the-shelf software did that, but Neil Gaiman was one of the writers who posted a template to use a couple of years back. Again, if you're doing anything out of the ordinary here, it might be worth going to a lawyer who's knowledgeable in these matters.

Sometimes the most helpful thing to know about a subject is when you need to get help with it, and what kind of help is called for. That can have multiple levels; for taxes, for instance, I have a "do it myself" level, a "do it with software" level (which we resorted to this year for federal income tax), and a "do it with a pro" level (which we haven't resorted to yet, but we have some notion of conditions where it would be a good idea).

#59 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 08:08 PM:

A friend of mine who is a solicitor tells me that everytime he's seen someone challenge a do-it-yourself-will-kit will then problems with the will have come to light. Most challenges to lawyer-written wills he's seen get dismissed quickly. So unless you're confident noone is going to be unhappy with your will, or really can't afford it, get a lawyer. This is anecdotal and UK specific, but he has a lot of anecdotes.

Or what Lee and Clifton said.

#60 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 08:54 PM:

I think my main point was just that it's better to do it yourself like John & his spouse, or even like Lee's dad (even if it ends up self-contradictory) or even to scribble something on a scrap of paper and sign it with or without witnesses*, than not to do it at all.

That's my number one message, do something however sloppy.

A lawyer will probably end up doing significantly better at accomplishing what you want, but that's really down to whether you have the money to spend on it. Since we could afford it, I viewed the DIY will we did as being a temporary thing in case one of us was to die before we got around to seeing the lawyer, and as being a way to jot down some idea of what we wanted so the lawyer had a starting point. Once we had done that, we were much more motivated to seek out a lawyer and take care of the rest of it.

[*] A lovely bit of trivia I picked up somewhere: the shortest will ever found valid in probate was "All to mother", signed and dated.

#61 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 08:58 PM:

Linkmeister: Even a bad car crash or a house fire could wipe out my family here, God forbid - but my daughter now lives in the Bay Area, my brother and sister and their kids are in Oregon north of Eugene, Abby's nieces are in LA, etc. It's hard to imagine something short of a truly enormous disaster wiping out all of those relatives simultaneously!

#62 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 09:13 PM:

re making a will, establishing a trust etc.

I am not a lawyer, I merely took a class in probate when I was thinking of becoming a paralegal (see also, the job I didn't get in the army).

The rules on what constitutes a valid will vary. In Calif, for example, a will which isn't drawn up by a lawyer, must be handwritten, in toto, and witnessed. The Witnesses can be challenged if they are given anything in the will.

If it's typed up, you need a lawyer's involvement, or it's not valid.

Trusts are a completely different issue, and there are local, and federal laws, which govern them. The present state of the estate tax will control lots of things, and your estate may benefit more from an irrevocable trust than a revocable one, etc.

This not legal advice, I am not a lawyer, all cases are unique, seek professional counsel before making any decisions, etc.

#63 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2009, 11:54 PM:

Clifton Royston #61: It's hard to imagine something short of a truly enormous disaster wiping out all of those relatives simultaneously!

A Yellowstone supervolcano eruption would probably do the trick; it wouldn't quite be simultaneous, though. Have a nice day! heh.

Oh, you said "short of". Ah, well. That leaves it to the realm of North Korean nuclear first strikes and the like.

#64 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 12:33 AM:


That's actually one of the ones I thought of when we were joking about it after seeing the lawyer.

If you're interested in enormous disasters, there's also strong evidence that the shield volcanoes of Hawaii, like Mauna Loa, periodically do this thing where an entire face of the volcano, from the summit all the way down to the seabed 20,000 feet below, shears off and collapses triggering a megatsunami around the entire Pacific rim. Nobody knows when that might happen either.

#65 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 04:10 PM:

Terry, IANAL either, and I certainly don't want to get into a wrangle, but I was told that a signed handwritten will is legal in California without witnesses, but that a typed (i.e. computer generated) will is legal as long as it is signed, witnessed and the witnesses do not stand to benefit from the will.

Any California lawyers present?

#66 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 04:50 PM:

I am not a California lawyer, but I am a lawyer (admitted in MA). And also mostly a lurker, but coming out of the woodwork to help, hopefully.

Looking at the California probate code, it appears that a valid will in California must be in writing, signed by the testator (or on the testator's behalf in certain very limited situations), and witnessed by two parties who are (a) present at the same time each other signs and the testator either signs or acknowledges his/her signature, and (b) understand that the writing is the testator's will. A holographic will (i.e., one entirely in the testator's handwriting) is valid whether witnessed or not provided that the "signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator."

Lizzy L., to your specific point about conflicts of interest, a will is not invalid specifically because an interested witness signed it (see section 6112.(b)). However, without two disinterested witnesses in addition to the interested witness, the presence of a devise (gift under the will) to a witness creates a presumption that the devise was obtained by foul means, which in turn affects the burden of proof should the will be challenged-- which can cause problems. So it's not quite as simple as the will won't be valid at all, but it will make things more difficult.

In general, probate code(s) vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Holographic wills, while a useful statement of testamentary intent, are not valid in some jurisdictions (I believe my own, Massachusetts, is one of them). So, if you're in doubt at all-- please, please, consult a trusts and estates attorney.

The above does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. When in doubt, consult counsel of your choice. All sales final. Some restrictions may apply. Void where prohibited by law.

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Annie G @ 66... a lurker, but coming out of the woodwork

What is it with all those lurkers coming out of the woodwork today? First Pendrift, now you... Next, there'll be a vacuum-cleaner creature.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:25 PM:

'Coming out of the woodwork' makes them sound too roachly. TROLLS come out of the woodwork.

Helpful new commenters "arrive on the scene," like EMTs. Or "step forward," like volunteers to sling sandbags around during a hurricane. Or "make themselves known," like previously-mysterious benefactors.

#69 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Xopher @ 68: "TROLLS come out of the woodwork."

Not out of the bridgework?

Or does that apply only if they mouth off?

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:33 PM:

Leroy @ 69... Or does that apply only if they mouth off?

After which they gum up the works?

#71 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:35 PM:

xopher @ #68, or "shyly emerge," bearing small host/hostess gifts comprised of bits of knowledge not previously revealed.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:37 PM:

Linkmeister @ 71... shyly emerge

That sounds like someone about to do the Dance of the Seven Veils.

#73 ::: PBrim ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:44 PM:

JulieB @ 8: I once had a collector call me about my next door neighbor! He wanted me to get the neighbor to call him back as the neighbor had no phone and was not responding to mail. Even more outrageous, the collector called back a week later and tried to chew me out because my neighbor hadn't called him. I told him, "You know where he lives, you come down here and knock on his door. You deal with his free-running rotweilers and his shotgun fetish. The whole neighborhood would be much happier if you hauled him off to debtors prison, but that's your job, not mine."

#74 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 06:58 PM:

Ummm, they don't still have debtors prisons, do they? Since the rich folk made sure that the bankruptcy laws are more restrictive now, that's a worry.

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 07:55 PM:

Earl Cooley: No, the US decided that was a bad idea.

The new bankruptcy laws... may be worse than the debtors prisons.

#76 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 08:49 PM:

Xopher, #68: No, Gnurrs come from de voodvork out!

#77 ::: Gareth Rees ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 08:55 PM:

A lovely bit of trivia I picked up somewhere: the shortest will ever found valid in probate was "All to mother", signed and dated.

The irony here is that "mother" did not refer to the testator's mother, but to his wife!

The will was challenged (Thorn v. Dickens, 1906) and witnesses had to be called to give evidence as to the testator's meaning. (He always called his wife "mother".) So although the case established that plain language is valid, perhaps the testator might have done better to make things a bit clearer.

#78 ::: mdlake ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 09:31 PM:

Don't think this is limited to BoA, either.

My brother died last May. Officially, it was an accident, but it looked to me like suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, especially when we began going through his papers and found he'd been out of work and stuck with a toxic mortgage.

When I called his mortgage holder--Countrywide, I believe--out of courtesy to report his death and explain my parents and I were trying to make sense of his records, the first question was "...and which of you will be taking care of his financial obligations?" Not financial affairs, financial obligations. The possibility that none of us would cover his debts was not even addressed.

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to say we were considering our options. At the time, negative equity seemed likely, but wasn't certain. When I asked for the information necessary to decide whether to go to probate over the house, the bank flatly refused to release any records on the mortgage or the property valuation until AFTER someone had agreed to claim ownership, including any attached debts, hoping the catch-22 would force our hand. We had to resort to hiring an independent evaluator.

They suckered Dan into a bad loan, tried to sucker his grieving relatives into accepting responsibility for it, then resorted to financial blackmail when that failed. Hell is too good for some of these creeps.

#79 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 09:37 PM:

Gareth, thanks for that follow-up. That makes it even better trivia to clog my brain with.

#80 ::: Miriam ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 10:11 PM:

I am not surprised at this story at all.

When I was just out of high school, going into the military, Bank of America managed to convince me that I needed a checking account with a $500 minimum balance, with ridiculous fees charges for going under that balance, overdraft fees, fees for writing checks, fees for visiting a teller. After nearly a year with a running negative balance because I couldn't maintain the appropriate minimum, they finally changed my account to a "student" checking account that charged a fee every time I saw a teller, every time I wrote a check, but thankfully had no minimum balance.

Shortly afterwards, I changed banks and moved to Wells Fargo who played similar shenanigans with my "free" checking account, including delaying deposits so that withdrawals would all come out at the same time. I've lost thousands of dollars in fees to both banks, but BoA was by far the worst. They made it very clear to me that I was just another "deadbeat" student who couldn't keep money in my account, and that I just wasn't any good with money.

Now that I'm banking with a credit union, I haven't had any of the problems with my account that I had with either WF or BoA.

#81 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 10:44 PM:

mdlake, #78, Countrywide was bought by BofA on July 1st last year (although they announced the acquisition January 2008).

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 10:58 PM:

I thought it was the knurrs, which one coaxed to come out with the gnurrhorn.

As to fees. When I was doing pizza delivery I used to deposit my tips on the way home, until I discovered I'd been charged something like 15 dollars for the month.

Reason: I has dropped below the minumum balance and every use of the ATM cost me $.50 (this was in 1988). When I went to them the next day to close the account they were all sweetness and light, asking why in the world I wanted to leave BofA.

I told them being charged to deposit money so they might lend it at interest offended my sense of propriety, and they could bloody well let me have all the money I'd lent them, that I might place in the care of people who had more respect for me.

The manager (who had come up to persuade me) looked like a deer in the headlights; not least because I wan't shouting, but I wasn't being library quiet either.

#83 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 01:00 AM:

Re: Wills, and the lack of valid ones -

In these circles it's probably always appropriate to point back to the blog post Neil Gaiman wrote after John M. Ford's untimely demise:

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 01:01 AM:

Miriam, #80: I thought that tale sounded familiar. Fancy meeting you here!

Terry, #82: Good for you. I need to have a little chat with Citibank about letting go of my retirement account (a pension-plan rollover; I want to transfer it to my own bank), and before I walk in, I'm going to know exactly where the building is that I need to go to in order to file an official complaint, and who with... just in case. And if it comes to that, I won't be talking at library levels either.

#85 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 03:59 AM:

No idea if this is UK specific law but I figure it's worth mentioning so folk can go check if it might apply to them.

If husband and I were to die in the same car crash/asteroid strike/whatever, he would be deemed to have died first because he is older than I am.

Thus, before we made our wills/had children, all his property would have instantly become mine and then instantly gone to my mother.

Our families are pretty civilised but don't really know each other and the potential strife at a time of bereavement that could cause doesn't really bear thinking about.

On the same basis, when we did make our wills, once we had children, the solicitor also advised on a clause in the event all four of us go down in the same plane. Families don't need vagueness at a time like that.

I look on all this as a form of preventative magic. With every conceivable disaster covered, none of them are going to happen!

#86 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 06:53 AM:

My grandmother died at the ripe old age of 103; she had a house full of antiques, valuables and sentimental items that all of her descendants (4 sons, lots of grand and great-grandchildren) wanted.

She wrote a will spelling out who got what, but then let herself get talked into by a couple of her granddaughters to let them "just pick out a few things" for themselves while she was still alive.

They selected some of the finest items and squirreled them at their father's homes, and when she died (peacefully, almost as if someone told her "you've got 3 minutes to put your affairs in order"), the squabbling between the 3 sons (one had died) about those particular things was incredible. It really drove a wedge between them for years and it's only been recently before they began speaking again.

#87 ::: Arwel ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Gareth @ 77

I recall seeing in the Guinness Book of Records once that the shortest will was by a Czech person who left "all to mother", but apparently in Czech that's just two words!

#88 ::: Dom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 06:59 PM:

"Everything to [my] wife," in Czech, would be even shorter: Vše ženě.

According to dubious Internet sources, exactly such a will was once signed by a German.

#89 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 10:47 PM:

MDLAKE (# 78)
The mortgage holder in that instance may have been actually breaking the law. I believe that they would have been required to provide the information, because the estate would be the legal entity owning the property,and the executor would be a legal agent for the estate, and thus the mortgage holder would be under the legal obligation to provide the documents.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV, and YMMV, depending on jurisdiction.

#90 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 10:50 PM:

I'm just going to put in a good word here for the Cooperative Bank in England; the one time I went overdrawn - and it was my fault, for not remembering a direct debit I'd set up when I was out of the country - I called them, explained my mistake, and they said 'No worries' and cancelled the charge.

#91 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 11:04 PM:

John L @ 86: Oh gods, don't remind me.

My mother and her twin are still sulking over who got which of their mother's nice things; at least they're no longer outright feuding over it. That was at least 25 years ago.

#92 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 12:50 AM:

Dom (@88): Those are both two word wills.

In (so far as I know) all declined languages (which, to the best of my knowledge, includes all the slavic languages) a will of, "all to X" can be written in two words, "all + Dative form of personal pronoun/name.

Making sure the person to whom that second word refers is crystal clear is the tricky part.

#93 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 12:52 AM:

I forgot to mention, in m BofA story, the balance dipped below minimum for one day, so all the ATM transactions for the rest of the month cost me money.

It was really offensive.

#94 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 01:23 AM:

Perhaps my favorite bankslime technique is when the bank strategically maximizes its overdraft fee profits by selecting the worst possible day of the month to apply the monthly finance charge. Although bank executives are stacked seventeen deep in Hell, there's still plenty of room for more.

Now, plz.

#95 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 01:31 AM:

Hungarian has possessive suffixes, so "Minden anyámnak" and "Minden feleségemnek" would be "All to my mother" and "All to my wife", respectively.

#96 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 02:15 PM:

Stephen desJardins: All I know of Magyar is the stress is always on the first syllable and it isn't slavic.

I've been told, "It's too hard, you could never learn to speak it", but I suspect that's not true. All I should want is the application.

In Russian, "mother, father, wife, husband" would all be prety lacking in ambiguity, as would any sole relation.

"All to Mischa" however, still strikes me as leadng to some abiguities, even for familial relations.

But it's interesting to find out about the endings.

#97 ::: Dom ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 02:28 PM:

Terry Karney @92: The likely reason to use Czech was to get the will down to seven letters. After all, why would a German leave a will in Czech? (You could shave off one more by leaving everything to your dog, but that would be silly.)

Terry Karney @93ff.: We really need a good national infrastructure for sending, receiving, and keeping small, positive amounts of money that isn't tied to our corrupt and insolvent banking system. There is cash, of course, for local transactions. The USPS issues money orders and stamps, including barcoded e-stamps. Surely that could be a start.

#98 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 04:17 PM:

Dom @ 97

Something like PayPal, just not evil*?

* Sometime, try to close a PayPal account that's got some money in it. Good luck getting your money back.

#99 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 04:22 PM:

re 86: Back when my great-grandmother died (don't know when, but certainly over fifty years ago-- probably more like sixty) my great aunt Tishie apparently just went over and took the dining room furniture. My grandmother got the good stuff, but nonetheless she and her sister feuded with Tishie (who was only an in-law) for pretty much the rest of their lives.

Example A: Here the family (minus my mother, who begged off) are down visiting my grandmother, and we are going over to drop in on Tishie and Jim (my grandfather's brother). Grandma is hot to get back home, using as a pretext a hair appointment of Tishie's that is three hours away. Jim and Tishie pull out these photo albums and start showing us all these relatives whom I have no idea who they are. Well. We're in NC, so of course we cannot leave without eating. Tishie goes into the kitchen to fix a snack, followed by Grandma. My father hisses to my sister, "get in there and make sure they don't kill each other!" Then Tishie announces that we should go to the dining room-- mind you, I'd never been in that room before, even though we had been there every year for at least a decade. As we're eating our cookies, she announces, "D'yall like my furniture? I got it when old Mrs. Wingate died!"

Example B: Not too long after we got married, my wife and I went down to visit Grandma and her sister and Tishie. By that time, she had moved into a retirement palace, and her sister Pearl had a different apartment from the one I knew in the same complex (old WW II BOQ next to the airport). So, we get down there, and we go to pay a call on Grandma, and not ten minutes after we got there, she says, out of the blue, "you know, Tishie got the furniture when old Mrs. WIngate died." Byrd is trying hard not to laugh (I'd warned her). A day or so later, went went to visit Tishie in Gastonia, taking Pearl with us; just as we got to the city limits, Pearl says, again completely out of the blue, "you know, Tishie got the furniture when old Mrs. Wingate died." By then, Tishie had had the furniture for a least forty years. (I draw a veil over what happened when we got back to Pearl's apartment, except to say that it was a "Dear Old Thing" extravaganza right out of the pages of Southern Ladies and Gentlemen.)

#100 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 05:21 PM:

Dom @ #97, Bruce @ #97, see this article at Time magazine for a plea to find some form of micropayment system which would allow online paper/magazine publishers to make money.

#101 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 05:23 PM:

Bah. Bruce @ #98, I meant.

#102 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2009, 11:04 PM:

The Bank of America had a low reputation with old-timers (they spit on the sidwalk in front of its door on Covina Street) in my part of Southern California back c. 1956 when I first got a full-time permanent job -- as the Bank of Italy, it Got Big back in The Great Depression by foreclosing on agricultural loans one minute after they were in default, and so acquired a lot of immensely valuable farmland (when other banks were more accommodating to their customers) -- but it was convenient, so I used it. For a while, until they started applying the sharp (though presumably legal) practices Terry Karney described.

So I switched to Wells Fargo (then also with a convenient office) -- until they started doing the same kind of misleading things (e.g. an "interest-bearing" checking account, paying .4 percent interest -- which looks okay if you don't realize that it's four-tenths of one percent).

Then I switched to Washington Mutual -- a small Seattle bank just then expanding. That, too, soon grew too big for its britches, but (perhaps fortunately) too big for the Government to allow it to fail, and has now been taken over by Morgan/Chase, making it even bigger and more fail-safe... I hope.

On the whole, I've been more pleased with the Civic Center/Southland Credit Union, even though it's been expanding alarmingly, but it's kinda dismal that none of these institutions seem to offer Savings or CD accounts that quite keep up with even the Official (much less the Actual) rate of Inflation.

So I'm reduced to contemplating putting my entire life savings into Post Office "Liberty/Forever" First Class Postage Stamps.
(Not that I'd do it, of course, but I seem to trust the Stock Market alternatives even less than I do the Banksters.)

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2009, 12:33 AM:

Dom: Russian for, "all to my wife" could be done in seven letters as well, though it wouldn't be the prettiest grammar.

Best grammar would be eight letters. For son/father, the number would be nine, (because the dative ending is three letter. Father is a four-letter word, but one of the vowels flees when declined).

Son is nagging me as no quite right (it ends with a "soft" letter, and I can't seem to recall the declension. I may have it right, but no matter what I do, it feels wrong, like a word one is doubting. It might be seven, but it's probably eight.

#104 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2009, 12:49 AM:

Don @ #102, well, there's always good old Series EE Savings Bonds, or TIPS. Lord knows the government is looking for buyers for its debt right now. Treasury Direct. Minimum purchase is a little higher than Forever stamps, but not much. (Series EE - still $25!)

#105 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2009, 10:15 AM:

A friend of mine told me recently that North Korea, through intermediaries, owns about 17% of the US national debt. I think it would have to be listed on the part of the normal pie charts that usually shows as "publicly held". I don't have sources to back up the assertion, though.

#106 ::: markdf ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 02:17 AM:

I was helping my sister settle a financial issue and BOA gave some info that sounded weird. So, she called them back, conferenced me in and the rep refused to talk because she said it was illegal for her to speak with a third-party on the line. My sister pointed out it was no different than if I were in the room with her and she had BOA on speaker. The rep refused. I pointed out that BOA was recording the call, which by default made THEM have a third-party on the line. She then told me BOA was legally obligated to record the call! We asked for a supervisor. She said she was a supervisor. We asked for HER supervisor. She said there was no one available and that if I didn't get off the phone, she was going to disconnect the call. We hung up on her.

We called back and got the same thing from the next rep, so we ended up with my sister calling and telling them she needed to consult with someone and she would be recording the call. The rep told her that was illegal!

We gave up at that point and did everything by mail. It took two months, but we got it done, with a paper trail.

Nice bank.

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2009, 02:49 PM:


I wonder how they'd react if she'd said she had her lawyer conferenced in, instead. Would the rep have still given her the BS line (surely read from a script) about how it was illegal for them to talk to her with any witnesses other people on the line?

Is there a good clearinghouse for this kind of abusive/near-fraudulent practices done by banks, utilities, etc? I'd love to see some website where the techniques were spelled out in detail, especially if they also named names. (I suspect many of the offenders would try to demand their names be taken out via threatening lawyer letter, if they thought they could get away with it.)

#108 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2009, 10:16 PM:

The March 4 NYTimes has an article about this: For Debt Collectors, the Dead are a Healthy Bet...

People who cannot pay their own bills aren't as good targets as people who can be pushed (through pragmatism or guilt) to pay a dead relative's bills.

"Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry."

The collectors are trained in how to sound empathetic, just like the funeral director they've just spent quality--and hideously overpriced--time with. Grief makes the living easy marks customers.

"if family members ask, 'we definitely tell them' they have no legal obligation to pay. 'But is it disclosed upfront — "Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money"? It’s not that blunt.'"

and then...

'One widow wrote that a collector "was so nice to me, even when I could only pay $5 a month a few times." Saying that money was “so tight” after her husband died, she added: "It was very hard for me, and to get a job at my age. Thank you."'

#109 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2009, 01:09 PM:

Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this loathsome practice.

#110 ::: David Harmon sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2010, 09:53 PM:

Looks like some get-rich-quick scheme from the URL

#111 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2010, 10:23 PM:

Craig R #21, Terry, et al: Since the spammer brought this thread to my attention, I'm going to repeat my warning about the upcoming Federal regulation changes, and the bank shenanigans they've prompted:
New federal regulations, effective August 15th, require banks to get opt-in from customers before they can inflict "overdraft coverage" -- that is, the scams Craig and Terry described for charging massive fees instead of notifying the customer at point-of-sale that their account is dry, or allowing them to use another form of payment instead.

Naturally, the banks are doing everything they can to bully you into accepting their "overdraft coverage", including making misleading claims to the effect of "your purchases may not go through" if you don't take it. Some banks have already been caught making outright false claims to customers in this vein. Note that even if you've already been snookered into "opting in", they legally have to let you opt back out upon request.

Links (well, URLs):

#112 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2010, 11:48 PM:

David Harmon: I've already done a post on the subject.

BofA seems to be taking the high road on this, but I have my suspicions they expect to reap some PR benefits from that, and then get the monetary benefit from the PayDay Lenders they invest in.

#113 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2010, 02:35 AM:

Recently, I had a card issuer claim that they couldn't change my monthly billing date at my request because that would violate the CARD Act; what it really prevents is issuers from making unilateral changes without a 45 day official notice.

One of their illustrious competitors allows their customers to change their billing date at will, directly from their web site.

#114 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2010, 07:06 AM:

Terry: Thanks for the signal boost!

#115 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2010, 10:39 AM:

David & Terry: Our mostly decent bank made a fuss at my wife about overdraft protection yesterday. But she saw through it (or had read warnings online; I didn't ask) and did the right thing, and then wrote to make sure I agreed. But anyway, yeah, it's going around.

#116 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 02:56 PM:

BofA employees broke into a woman's house and stole her husband's ashes while she was fighting an improper foreclosure.

#117 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 03:59 PM:

Lee@117: That certainly sounds far worse than "moved all her possessions out of the home they were evicting her from". The real issue is whether they should have been evicting her, which the article you link never addresses (beyond giving her opinion).

My guess would be that BoA in particular was in highest self-defense mode, and avoiding doing anything the slightest bid dodgy would be high on their list of goals (since they've already got negative press going, and investigations, so anything about them is automatically a story).

Of course, the theory that they are stupid idiots has not been dis-proven; they might actually be dumb enough to do something blatantly wrong while everybody was watching them.

#118 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 04:09 PM:

Lee #117: That is simply disgusting.

#119 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 05:34 PM:

ddb: The property in question was in probate, and the NYT article on this particular case suggests the seizure may have been improper.

One would think BofA and others would be in high-defense mode to avoid getting themselves more bad press, but one of the bad pieces of press they are worried about is the accusation of letting foreclosed properties sit vacant and become nuisances. The prospect of getting bad press because their foreclosure proceedings were inadequately documented and thoroughly error-riddled appears not to have swum into their ken before this.

Banks like Chase and BofA hire contractors to handle these seizures, in many cases using a clause many mortgages contain, allowing them to enter a property is it is vacant in order to secure it, before the foreclose process has been completed. Given the extremely messed-up situation WRT foreclosures and mortgage paerwork in general, with properties that were not subject to foreclosure (mortgage paid in full, loan-modification work in process, no loan held by foreclosing agent in the first place, and plenty of others--the state of Florida has lots of stories like this going around; try googling for a sampling) being seized, it is inevitable that a lot of the peoperties they enter are going to be places they shouldn't be entering. I imagine they are hiring the same range of people who act as bounty hunters and other jobs that attract macho idiots--and you only need a few of those to make everything look very bad indeed.

#120 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 06:19 PM:

I would like to see such people who have entered illegally prosecuted for (duh) illegal entry. And the banks prosecuted for suborning such activity....

Such prosecutions might slow things down a bit.

#121 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 06:22 PM:

Oh, man, I bet the BofA Wikileaks hoard is going to be awesomely hideous, maybe even better than the self-congratulating Enron bankrupting granny emails.

#122 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2010, 09:14 PM:

One of the people I commute with is having problems with BofA over a conservator's account (said commuter is the conservator) for a now-dead parent. The account was frozen without notice, a check bounced, and BofA is apparently unable (or more likely unwilling) to admit that they screwed things up.

#123 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2010, 07:05 PM:

I just started reading Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine", and discovered yet another flavor of slime from BofA. They were one of the corporations that formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Chile that set out to destroy the economy of Chile in 1973, as part of a plan to force President Allende out of power and put in power a military junta which would be favorable to Chile's exploitation by multinational companies.

Whether or not it's fair to say so, I think that makes them morally responsible for the terror subsequently visited on the Chilean people by Pinochet.

#124 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2011, 08:38 PM:

BofA will reopen a closed account if a new transaction hits it -- even months or years after the fact. And then they'll charge you fees to close it again.

#125 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2012, 06:44 PM:

BofA is outsourcing their customer services to the Philippines after getting a $45,000,000,000 bailout with taxpayers' money. As if that wasn't enough reason to be concerned, privacy and security law in the Philippines is... somewhat lax, rendering your personal account information vulnerable to leakage if one of those customer-service droids is offered a large enough bribe.

I'm having trouble with the linkage, so here it is as cut-and-paste:

#126 ::: MilesToGo sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2012, 08:01 PM:

spam @127

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2013, 03:09 PM:

BofA continues to charge fees to the account of a man they know is dead.

The man died intestate, and BofA is refusing to turn the money in the account (about $1,100) over to his son and legal heir, saying he'll have to take them to court. In the meantime, they're bleeding the account with monthly fees because they can. Bottom line: Get a will -- but if you don't have a will, don't put your money in BofA.

#128 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2013, 05:08 PM:

Actually, the article says BofA admitted they'd made a mistake in charging fees for two months, and had refunded that amount to the account; and that they'd extended the time they wouldn't charge fees until January 2014. Which makes for a much less dramatic story, of course.

That they won't hand the money over without a court order is still a bit problematic. In this case, I'd say the best way to get the money would be, oddly enough, small claims court! The amount is under the CA limit of $10,000; the fees are reasonable; and it would be a legitimate court order; and the proceedings are likely to be quick and easy. No lawyers involved, and it would probably cost BofA more to send a defender than to pay.

It'd be well worth checking out whether one could use small claims in this case, and I expect they could.

#129 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2013, 07:25 PM:

Tom, #128: What I got from that article was that BofA violated its own stated policy and didn't notice or care until someone raised a fuss, at which point they back-pedaled and pulled some CYA. But notice also that their stated policy only offers to waive the fees for 6 months, while they have three years to hang onto the money before it has to be turned over to the state as an abandoned account. So even if they abide by the policy in full, they have 30 months in which to hit the account of a deceased person with every fee they can think of and bleed it dry... unless the heir can produce a court order. Also, I got the distinct impression that they were threatening to fight any attempt to get a court order, and that was why they kept saying it would be more expensive than the amount in the account.

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2014, 07:10 PM:

Bank of America ordered to repay $727 million for shady marketing practices.

For "shady", read "misleading, fraudulent and often illegal".

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